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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Lizard People and Lovecraft: A Review of Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

The other day I sent out a tweet. It was a tweet about the book I was reading, and lizard people.

Back then, I was young and stupid thinking Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw was about lizard people. I know much better now. I know that this novella is actually about tentacle porn.

I do very much regret searching for tentacle gifs because most of what came up was tentacle porn.

I’m sorry, please don’t click away; I can sense everyone leaving. Please stay!

As I’ve already mentioned, today we are talking about Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw. I found this novella on a listicle this past October whilst looking for some new horror books to read. I finally got around to reading it two days ago, and now I’m here to review it.

So what’s this book about if it’s not about lizard people? Well, let me just quote the synopsis to you:

John Persons is a private investigator with a distasteful job from an unlikely client. He’s been hired by a ten-year-old to kill the kid’s stepdad, McKinsey. The man in question is abusive, abrasive, and abominable.
He’s also a monster, which makes Persons the perfect thing to hunt him. Over the course of his ancient, arcane existence, he’s hunted gods and demons, and broken them in his teeth.
As Persons investigates the horrible McKinsey, he realized that the man carries something far darker. He’s infected with an alien presence, and he’s spreading that monstrosity far and wide. Luckily Persons is no stranger to the occult, being an ancient and magical intelligence himself. The question is whether the private dick can take down the abusive stepdad without releasing the holds on his own horrifying potential.

So you can see where I was totally thinking this was going to be about lizard people. Spoiler, it’s not about lizard people. I am kinda mad about that.

Disappointed Viola Davis
I'm disappointed as well, but mainly mad.

Anyway, there is a lot going on with that synopsis, and this book.

First of all, Khaw’s main character, the PI John Persons, talks as if he’s in a noir film. I love it. I love seeing him talk with the other characters because everyone talks as we do today, due to the story being set in contemporary London, but John is there talking like it’s the 1920’s.

Leo Dicaprio raising champagne glass
Go off, Old Sport.

The noir descriptions are probably what I love the most about this story. It’s fun to read from John’s POV because the noir descriptions and terms are not something I normally read or generally hear. I greatly appreciate the writing style in this story.

So let’s go back to lizard people/tentacle porn. And I can sense everyone clicking away again; please come back! There isn’t really any tentacle porn, I’m just trying to joke around but that’s not working out too well.

Anyway, Hammers on Bone is heavily inspired by Lovecraft. The creatures and cults and mythos of this story feel as if Lovecraft himself wrote this story. The only two ways I can think of off the top of my head to distinguish this from not being a Lovecraft story are the noir style, and the fact that the black woman in this story isn’t the villain. We all know Lovecraft was a massive racist. Honestly, the fact that the black character wasn’t the villain is a dead giveaway that this story isn’t by Lovecraft. But this isn’t a post on Lovecraft’s racism, this is a review on Hammers on Bone.

Cthulhu being cute.
I promise to one day cover The Call of Cthulhu, and to use this gif nonstop.

Back to the mythos of this story though. Like I said, the cult and creatures of this story have a lot of depth and backstory to them…in some ways. It’s clear that they have been around basically since the start of time, that most people are oblivious to them but a certain few can see the truth, the end goal is to take over the world, and that there is a dead language these creatures use to communicate.

Unfortunately, and I feel that this may be because this is a novella and its short nature, Khaw doesn’t explain much of these creatures and cults outside of what I have mentioned. And what I have mentioned is fairly basic, and are things I’ve definitely seen before. On top of that, there isn’t even a clear description of the creatures over the course of one hundred pages.

There was enough for me to realize my initial thought of lizard people taking over was wrong given the amount of tentacle descriptions happening by the last third of the novella. Honestly, the cover design with a bunch of tentacles should have given that away. 10/10 cover design by the way.

Hammers on Bone cover art.
Look at how cool this cover is! Shout out to Jeffrey Alan Love for the cover art, and Christine Foltzer for the cover design; it's a really cool cover.

There are no descriptions on these creatures until the climax of the story, and there isn’t much backstory on the creatures until the end either. I like to think I know a decent amount about western creatures and mythologies, but I was unable to place what the author was inspired by. On the “about the author” page, it is stated that Khaw draws a lot of inspiration from Southeast Asian mythology; and that, I have no knowledge of at all. I would love to know what mythology she was inspired by because I would love to read stories on what inspired these creatures.

I have so many other questions for the author on these creatures as well. Specifically, how did these creatures come to be, how do they take control of people, is our PI possessed by a different type of creature than our villain, what is the deal the young boy made to the goddess in this story?

Yeah…I have a lot of questions. I would gladly read a long, full series from this author to get these answers though.

Spongebob Squarepants waiting with coffee.
Me waiting for more stories in this universe:

Now that I’ve given you so many questions about this story’s mythos, lets finally talk about the plot. I’m also going to put my trigger warning for this book here as well. This story mentions domestic abuse. Nothing is ever explicitly described in the book, but please read this novella at your own discretion.

As you’ve already read in this post, the set up of this story is a ten-year-old boy hiring our narrator to kill his stepdad. As this kid begins explaining the situation, it seems like a fairly cut and dry abusive situation going on in this child’s household. But it is our narrator, more specifically the voice in his head, that tips the reader off that something isn’t right with the story the boy is telling. Of course, this little boy is right, his stepdad is a literal monster.

Monsters being a string trio.
Always listen to children about monsters,folks.

Had the young boy not been the one to hire our PI, this story would be very bland until the monsters. The opening two lines are the hook this story needs.

Basically, the kid is the hook, the monsters are what makes it different, and the monsters being an allegory for the darkness inside ourselves is what makes this story stand out.

This was a really quick read, and like I said, I would gladly read a longer series about John Persons. If you are a fan of Lovecraft, you will enjoy this one. If you like supernatural detective stories, you will enjoy this one.

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